Tips From Web Greats

It’s sad, really sad, to see so many Americans work hard and play by the rules without ever getting ahead.

YouTube is bulging with videos from citizens, especially young ones, who want nothing more than the American Dream: celebrity status without appreciable talent. They work long hours chasing the dream, doing take after take of their mash-ups, their parodies, their response tapes. But at the end of the day, they’re no more famous than when they woke up, most likely in a bedroom in their parents’ home.

If this sounds like you, you’re probably telling yourself that you’ve just had bad luck. But real-life Web celebrities know better: They got where they are today not just because they were lucky, but because they knew a few secrets you probably don’t.

That fact was abundantly clear when I interviewed some of the biggest Net stars last week, asking what advice they’d give to someone trying to break into the business. Here’s what they told me about “Becoming a Viral Web Superstar: Tips From the Experts.”

The most important thing is to understand the dynamics of the medium and the nature of your audience. “The Internet moves very fast,” says Gary “Numa Numa” Brolsma. “Your video has to be funny, or get to the point, very quickly. People are clicking all the time. If you don’t hook people in the first 15 seconds, they’ll move on.”

Mr. Brolsma certainly knows what he’s talking about. He was voted “Greatest Internet Superstar” by VH1. You may not have heard of him, or for that matter, any of the other megasuperstars mentioned in this column. Well, you can read about them on Wikipedia. Or, ask the guy in your office who seems always glued to his computer, “working on PowerPoint.”

Another glide path to online fame involves pushing as many demographic buttons as possible. That’s the word from Judson “Evolution of Dance” Laipply, whose video has long reigned as the most-viewed on YouTube.

“My video crosses almost every generation — it doesn’t have a language barrier and it has nostalgia going for it, too,” he says. “One of my favorite emails was from a grandmother who said she watched it with her daughter, her granddaughter and her great-granddaughter, and they all were laughing hysterically.”

Tenacity and self-confidence also should be in your arsenal. “Be obsessive,” says Fritz Grobe, the short, bearded one on the right in the famous Diet Coke and Mentos video. “We spent six months developing our experiments and asking ourselves, ‘Is this cool, or are we just crazy?’ Lots of the biggest Internet videos have been made by real people showing what they are passionate about.”

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